Social studies teachers in the Seattle area still talk about ‘the Hess years' when she taught here.

Walter Parker

Diana Hess (PhD '98), a scholar renowned for her work advancing civic education, has received the University of Washington College of Education’s 2018 Distinguished Alumnus Award.

Hess, dean of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and holder the Karen A. Falk Distinguished Chair of Education, is winner of two of the most prestigious awards in education research: the American Educational Research Association’s Outstanding Book Award (2016) and the Grawemeyer Award in Education (2017).

A student of UW Professor Walter Parker, Hess wrote her doctoral dissertation on teachers who excelled at facilitating classroom discussions of controversial issues. That research informed Hess’ 2009 book, “Controversy in the Classroom: The Democratic Power of Discussion,” and an ambitious study involving 21 schools detailing the discussion of controversial issues and effects on student understanding and future political behavior. The resulting book, “The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education” (2015), explores the role of teachers in perpetuating serious, thoughtful political deliberation in schools.

“Not only does [Hess] show how would-be discussion facilitators can be more successful, but she also drills down on the meaning and place of controversial public issues in the school curriculum,” Parker wrote in a letter nominating Hess for the Distinguished Alumnus Award. “Learning to deliberate political controversies in diverse settings is one of the great educational aims of our time.”

Hess began her career as a social studies teacher in Downers Grove, Ill., before leading initiatives to transform civic education across the U.S. as associate director of the Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago.

While completing her doctoral work in social studies education at the UW, she served as a teaching assistant and instructor for a number of teacher preparation courses.

“Social studies teachers in the Seattle area still talk about ‘the Hess years' when she taught here,” Parker said.


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